“There is a natural bridge between hunger and food waste, and if we could divert that food to those who are hungry, surely that is something we’d want to do.”
Caroline McCann, Slow Food’s southern Africa councillor, said this in her opening remarks during a webinar co-hosted by City Press, Chefs with Compassion and the EU delegation to South Africa this week.
The discussion brought together people from across the food chain spectrum. From small-scale farmer Siphiwe Sithole, the owner of African Marmalade to Arnold Tanzer, the co-founder of Chefs with Compassion and the producer of TV shows such as MasterChef SA.
Also involved were Karin Carstensen, the scientific and regulatory affairs manager at Woolworths; Anna Trapido, an anthropologist, chef and author of Hunger for Freedom and Eat Ting; and Anne-Laure Gassin, team leader of the EU’s farm to fork strategy and the body’s director-general for health and food safety.
About 80% of all the food in the world is produced by small-scale farmers and, by harvesting on demand, these producers can reduce food waste, Sithole explained.
Sithole, who is passionate about indigenous African ingredients, said: “Small-scale farmers reduce food waste. By their proximity to the farmers … consumers can come and buy on demand. So you don’t have to rely on a cold-chain system where the food is stuck in cold rooms for weeks on end before it gets to the consumer.”
She explained that many indigenous crops that people grow on the continent can be preserved using traditional methods that also ensure the food remains nutrient dense.
From the retailer’s point of view, consumer safety and convenience are most important, but so is being a responsible corporate citizen.
“The best-before date is about eating quality,” she explained. “You find it on products such as chocolates and biscuits and – the most important thing for consumers to understand – is that best-before dates indicate the quality of the products. Beyond the best-before dates products may still be donated or sold to charities etc.
“The other date is the use-by date. It is important because it is used on products that may potentially become unsafe, like ready meals and sushi.”
This year, Woolworths donated R643 million worth of food. The voluntary agreement put forward by the Consumer Goods Council of SA and co-funded by the EU sets out the ambition of food industry players and consumers to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, as set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.
The hospitality sector, as one of the biggest consumers of fresh food, has a big role to play in mitigating food waste.
During the initial Covid-19 national lockdown early this year, Tanzer co-founded Chefs with Compassion. The organisation took the excess food that the restrictions created and, through its broad network, cooked it to ensure those who had become food insecure were fed.
“Chefs by their nature are people who like to give. The hospitality industry is about, in simple words, showing love. That is the core of our business,” she said, adding that, when the hard lockdown was implemented, he and fellow chefs realised it was going to be a long-term challenge.
They also realised that, due to the country’s socioeconomic problems, it was going to become necessary to feed more people.
“In essence, we rescue food, we cook food and we feed people,” said Tanzer.
He reiterated that what they were doing was the beginning of a long process to feed people and reduce food waste – a process we all needed to play a part in: “There is a lot of wasted food, not food waste.”
From a more global perspective, Gassin presented the EU’s farm to fork strategy, part of its broader commitment to the circular economy.
To eliminate food waste and loss, the strategy is working in a number of areas, including changing policy where needed, monitoring where food waste is occurring in the food chain and fostering collaborations to reduce it – all to reach the 2030 goal.
“If we can design food waste out of our food systems, we can be well on the road to establishing a fairer, healthier and environmentally friendly food system, which is the aim of the farm to fork strategy that the EU adopted this year,” said Gassin.
The webinar There’s No Such Thing as Waste: A Compassionate Approach to the Food Chain gave a broad overview of what is being done and what more can be done, as Sithole put it, “to push back the frontiers of hunger in South Africa, and beyond”.
All of us have a role to play because we are all part of the food chain, and we can make decisions that result in less waste every day.
. To view the webinar, go to https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=1710357145807936&ref=watch_permalink
.To connect with Chefs with Compassion, go to https://chefswithcompassion.org.za/